Executive director, conservative advocacy group Compass Colorado, since July.
Previously served as communications director for the Colorado Republican Party; also was on the communications staff of then-U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman.
Graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder and Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.
Colorado Politics: Your predecessor at Compass, Kelly Maher, is known for her witty, toast-of-the-town persona. How would you characterize your style — and will there be any shift in strategy or tactics now that your hand is on the helm?
Kyle Kohli: Kelly’s wit is certainly lore around Colorado politics. I’ve enjoyed watching her for years. I think her approach using humor to get a message across is extremely effective and definitely exposes folks on the left who often take themselves and their politics too seriously.
Personally, my own style is informed by my experience working in campaign war rooms and comms shops.
As a war roomer on either side, you watch 8-12 hours of cable news, CSPAN, and literally any other medium where your targets might appear everyday. That experience taught me the importance of identifying actionable content and disseminating it appropriately to build narratives and create larger stories.
Compass has certainly done a lot of that in the past, and that’s something we will continue to do as we hold the left accountable going forward.
CP: Ideology aside, how would you compare and contrast Compass’ approach to advocacy with that of, say, ProgressNow? Opposite sides of the street, sure, but aren’t their some essential similarities?
Kohli: One major difference is we would never take taxpayer dollars to finance our advocacy like ProgressNow did. Billing taxpayers for a PPP loan was a fairly odd choice for an organization associated with some pretty deep-pocketed donors.
I’d acknowledge there are some similarities structurally in terms of how they go after their respective targets. However, I wouldn’t say Compass or our approach has the same kind of visceral anger that some of the personalities over at ProgressNow exhibit.
For instance, I don’t think you’ll ever catch us telling an entire industry “for real, **** every single one of you” because we object to what they do or their politics. If you work in a public capacity for a mainstream organization on the right, you won’t last very long if you’re too emotional to contain those kinds of weird outbursts (which ProgressNow has quite often, at least on Twitter). Maybe that kind of stuff builds credibility with their core demo of angry Bernie/Warren people. I guess I can’t blame them entirely.
With that said, we do look forward to jousting with them and holding up a mirror to the woke left in Colorado. Often, they don’t like what they see.
CP: What is the unique space that Compass occupies on conservative end of Colorado’s political spectrum — setting it apart from other center-right advocacy groups in the state?
Kohli: Compass Colorado will shine a light on the activities of the left across the board, from the state legislature, to interest groups, to statewide races. Our job is to make sure that any time there is an opportunity to hold the left accountable, we do so.
CP: How would you rate your relations with Colorado’s mainstream media? In your experience, is the press corps less receptive to the messaging of conservative advocacy groups like yours — as conventional wisdom holds — and do conservatives as a group get fair treatment in news coverage in our state?
Kohli: I’ve always tried to maintain productive relationships with the press. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. However, at the end of the day if you want to preserve opportunities to influence coverage or get your perspective included, it’s important to maintain open lines of communication.
As for whether conservatives get fair treatment, that’s very dependent on the outlet, the reporter, and the topic in question. Sometimes the answer is yes, often it’s a resounding no. More broadly, everyone brings a worldview and biases to their job, and journalists are no different. It just so happens that reporters are disproportionately Democrats who fall far to the left of the median American.
One related observation to your question I’d make is I’ve found Colorado Democrats are far more sensitive to negative coverage than conservatives. It’s evident they expect to be treated a certain way, and when that doesn’t happen, they lose their minds.
CP: What in your view are the three biggest state issues Colorado is facing right now?
Kohli: It’s tough to narrow it to just three. The biggest near- and medium-term issue in Colorado right now is the state’s response to the pandemic. That, along with the state of the economy, will be front of mind for voters though November.
I think the three largest threats facing Colorado are the priorities being pushed by Democrats at the State Capitol. The left is engaged in a long-term effort to gut the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, strip away employer-based insurance, and drown energy producers in red tape. If they succeed with these goals either next session or in the future, they will kill untold amounts of jobs and fundamentally transform Colorado for the worse.
CP: How do Republicans win back swing voters in a state where polls say they are swinging left — and away from President Trump?
Kohli: It’s not an exaggeration to say Gardner and the Trump administration have delivered in ways Democrats never have for Colorado. Whether it’s passing historic conservation legislation, bringing the BLM to Grand Junction, funding construction for the Arkansas Valley Conduit, or cutting taxes leading to record job growth, Republicans can show voters tangible results that have made the middle class better off.
I think the onus is on Democrats to explain why they were unable to match these accomplishments for Colorado with President Obama in office and majorities in both houses of Congress. It’s obvious Democrats take Colorado for granted, and consider many of the state’s priorities (especially in rural areas) to be an afterthought. Nominating Hickenlooper for Senate only underscores this point. Between botching his response to his ethics violations and generally running a lackluster campaign, it’s evident he has no real desire to be in the Senate. That’s hardly a compelling case to make for swing voters.
CP: Luminaries in both major parties seem to think the fight against COVID is a winning issue for their side. Give us your elevator speech as to why Republicans have the most persuasive talking points on the pandemic — and, come Election Day, are likelier than Dems to win the public's hearts and minds.
Kohli: If President Trump had listened to Joe Biden, we’d have never shut down travel from China or Europe. Most of America’s infections arrived from China and Italy, and the administration deserves credit for being proactive and preventing what would have been an even greater catastrophic loss of life.
By implementing a whole-of-America approach at the outset of the pandemic, the administration also ensured PPE and life-saving resources were distributed to states where they were needed most. In conjunction with this effort, Cory Gardner leveraged relationships with Taiwan and South Korea to secure millions of N95 masks and 300,000 testing kits for Colorado.
However at the end of the day, it’s up to states to manage local responses to the pandemic. Colorado still lags in COVID testing compared to peer states, and several recent stories have raised questions about Gov. Polis’ uneven management of the state’s response to COVID-19. If Polis doesn’t right the ship within state government, his poor leadership could turn into a major liability for Democrats at the ballot box.